Application to Develop a Business Plan for a USDA-certified Mobile Livestock Unit
Note to the reader: The entire report for this project appears here under the project summary.
The project’s vision is to develop a mobile USDA meat processing unit and fixed infrastructure to support it. This could be a significant opportunity for producer residents of the county to increase profit margins through value-added sales of the meat they produce. Okanogan County has experienced economic challenges in the past decade. Providing a means by which livestock producers would have more opportunities as well as reduced stress (for both them and their animals) and reduced expenses would be a tremendous stimulus, both economic and moral, to area residents.
Several changes in project participants have been made since the project was initiated, with a new team, including Carey Hunter, a goat producer, as project coordinator, and Norman Suverly, new Okanogan County Agent, as the technical advisor.
The objectives outlined in the original application are:
• Conduct producer outreach to develop a list of producers interested in a mobile processing unit
• Explore and determine the organizational structure to own and operate the unit
• Determine how producers who wish to utilize the unit will be organized
• Evaluate a consumer advertising campaign
• Explore the potential for developing other cooperative efforts to improve the quality of meat production and improve producer returns in the county
• Explore the opportunity to develop a network to disseminate information on sustainable agricultural practices to member producers
• Hire a qualified consultant to write a business plan
• Hire a qualified attorney to formalize the ownership and membership structure and review liability issues
The organizational structure and marketing aspects of the project have been discussed, and a business plan was begun, with Lew Blakeney, Small Business Administration consultant for the county, engaged as a business plan advisor. In addition, Washington State University Cooperative Extension in Wenatchee has provided a FINPack program that the project team can use to run financial analysis once the options for a fixed infrastructure are determined. The appropriate legal entity and formation of that entity has yet to be completed.
Personnel changes have disrupted progress of the project, but the project committee is now operating under the auspices of the regional Resource Conservation and Development, a 501c(3) organization that will host it until the group has transferred its organization into the chosen legal operation. This has the potential to expand the project to become a tri-county and reservation-wide project, so the group has begun partnering with conservation districts, granges, Farm Bureau and others that support this endeavor.
A specialist from the regional Risk Management Agency in Spokane is exploring liability issues and working with the project team to make presentations to various groups involved in the project.
IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE
The mobile processing unit and its accompanying infrastructure could have a direct economic impact on producers. It could reduce the time needed to handle the animals and eliminate the transportation cost and stress on animals and their owners from loading stock and hauling them out of the county.
Once the group has worked out kinks in its own model and determined how a year-round breeding program would function, members will be able to assess carcass criteria and develop product consistency. This, in turn, should facilitate marketing. The group is also looking at potential markets for pasture-raised natural meat in the Wenatchee and Puget Sound areas.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
Area producers have begun to inquire about when the unit will be active, indicating an interest in participating. From producer experience in San Juan and Island counties, where the first USDA-approved mobile processing unit operated, it is clear that a profit will not be seen in the first year. An important aspect is that the unit will provide access to new markets, namely restaurants, stores, farmers markets and individual customers. In addition to the mobile processing unit in San Juan and Island counties, the project team is monitoring the results of a similar unit that began operation in October 2006 in neighboring Stevens County.
Among the anticipated activities that will evolve with initiation of the unit are finishing livestock on pasture, extending breeding cycles, composting offal on the farm and developing direct marketing strategies.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
To be successful, anyone considering a mobile processing unit must include a plan for infrastructure to support the unit, which can be complex and which must be sufficient to support it. Upgrading custom-exempt facilities to USDA status is expensive, requiring a hanging cooler of sufficient size, a cut-and-wrap room and a flash freezer for holding quantities. Such premises must be USDA-approved, and retrofitting an existing custom-exempt unit may not be feasible.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
The project team has produced several educational materials to share with potential consumers and producers, including a brochure with answers to frequently asked questions disseminated at a workshop sponsored by the county extension office. In addition, several local newspaper articles have reflected the interest in this project.
Washington State University Extension
P.O. Box 391
Okanogan, WA 98840
Office Phone: 5094227245
Office Phone: 5099973767